Hurricanes and snowmobiles

In 1565, Queen Elizabeth was whisked off to Windsor Castle. The idea was to escape the plague, which was ravaging London. Understanding the contagiousness of the disease, she ordered her henchmen to hang anyone who ventured to her castle door from London. The poor were left to fend for themselves. In other words, escaping the plague was class-driven.

The escape from Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans was also determined by class with a racist edge. Those with the resources and connections got out. The poor did not.

Complicating the rescue of the largely working-class and African American population is the fact that 35 percent of the Louisiana National Guard troops, 3,000 from New Orleans alone, are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Laying a material base for the disaster was the Bush administration’s $44 million cuts in flood control. Incredibly, Lou Dobbs of CNN attempted to blame New Orleans’ African American mayor for the weak response to the disaster!

What many people don’t realize is that this same brew of

class-driven federal policy, cutbacks due to imperialist adventures abroad, and a compliant media, is insidiously aimed at all aspects of environmental policy. We depend on a protected environment for jobs, recreation and our very existence, as do other beings with whom we share the planet.

An excellent case in point is the Bush administration’s effort to change national park regulations regarding snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Paul Hoffman, an Interior Department deputy assistant secretary, has proposed 194 pages of policy revisions that would allow heavy use of snowmobiles and ATVs in our national parks. This would especially impact the crown jewel of the system, Yellowstone National Park.

Scott Creel, a Montana State University biologist, studied stress levels of wild mammal populations in Yellowstone and in Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. He did this by measuring the amount of glucocorticoid, an enzyme indicator for stress, in the animals in relation to the proximity of snowmobiles and the noise they create.

Creel found that for wolves in Yellowstone, over a period of time when snowmobile traffic increased by 25 percent, stress enzyme levels increased by 28 percent.

Conversely, for wolves in Voyageurs Park, a 37 percent decline in snowmobile traffic between 1998 and 2000 correlated with an identical drop in stress enzyme levels over the same period. Comparable figures have been found for elk.

It is not known what long-term impact such stress would have on these wildlife populations. Potential impacts could be lower reproduction rates, suppression of the immune system, muscle wasting and ulcers in the digestive organs.

Grandstanding on Earth Day 2001, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced she would allow the planned phase-out of snowmobiles in Yellowstone that had been initiated by the Clinton administration. However, after just two months of playing footsie with snowmobile manufacturers, she stopped the phase-out and called for “further study.”

Two major studies had already been completed. The National Park Service held 22 hearings and received hundreds of thousands of comments from citizens. More than 80 percent favored banning snowmobiles. The National Park Service’s own report on the issue said that phasing out snowmobiles is “the environmentally preferred alternative that preserves the parks in the best condition while allowing for current generations to experience and enjoy the parks.”

But when this administration doesn’t get the results it prefers, it authorizes more studies. It is now on its fourth study, which will cost $2-3 million. Yellowstone is underfunded by over $22 million.

There are appropriate places for snowmobiles and ATVs, both for work and recreation. Yellowstone National Park is not one of those places.

Who depends on national parks for recreation? If you can’t flip for annual excursions to Paris and the Swiss Alps, there’s a good chance it’s you. Workers need the clean air, distant vistas and chance to rub shoulders with wildlife that these national treasures afford. The Bush administration’s policies reflect the class outlook of the rich who see public lands as potential profit sources to feed their greed, while they vacation at their private country estates and exclusive resorts around the globe.

Hidden in the same snowmobile/ATV policy changes recommended by Bush’s Interior Department henchmen is the elimination of all references to evolution in any national park written material. Meanwhile, President Bush is advocating the teaching of the unscientific “intelligent design” idea in our science classrooms.

The conscious sowing of confusion and rejection of science by the White House is an ideological smokescreen for policies that fill the coffers of those who view the working class as replaceable and national treasures like Yellowstone as just another place of exploitation.





Nick Bart is an environmental activist in Connecticut.